LOS ANGELES ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL 2020 REVIEW! When I was a kid, I asked my mom if I could be an actor. She immediately grounded me and sent me off to medical school. Hui Tong and Kelly Ng’s Curtain Up! is the unlikely story of the theater club of New York City school PS 124, in Chinatown. What about them is unlikely? If you’re Chinese (or Asian for that matter) in America, you know exactly why “unlikely.”
The premise of the documentary is pretty straightforward. The underlying message is the importance of the arts in education across the board. Just the idea of starting and maintaining an arts program in public school is not easy to accomplish. It requires a high degree of passion and dedication from educators and a whole lot of money. A job like this takes patience, long hours, and not much of an impact on the old salary. The rewards, though, are priceless.
Then there are the kids. The Asian stereotypes of family honor, excelling at school, and choosing the right future vocation are still prevalent. While the parents at PS 124 are more open to their children “putting on a show,” the kids still balance having fun and being a kid with staying true to their cultural roots and parental expectations.
“…honored to be the first school to present the junior version of Disney’s Frozen.”
Remove the message of school funding of the arts and strict cultural expectations, and the joy of Curtain Up! is watching kids put on a musical. These students are here to have fun and couldn’t care less about the political and familial drama. Look, they’re doing Frozen, and it’s cute. I’ve suffered through seven years of my daughter in school musicals, darn it. There’s nothing like seeing your kid on stage.
PS 124 has been honored to be the first school to present the junior version of Disney’s Frozen. The adult heroes here are theater club founder Ms. Baayork, Mr. Olson, Principal Horn, choreographer Mr. Kyle, and Miss Hannah. Curtain Up! takes us through each step to opening night. Kids are auditioning; roles are cast, then we move onto rehearsals.
The reality of this film is any school could have been selected as a subject of a documentary about children’s musical theater. That fact that this is a public school of immigrant children is just the right accent to the doc’s predictable narrative to elevate it above other documentaries. Don’t get me wrong; the credentials of PS 124 makes them more than a worthy candidate.
Tong and Ng weave together a fun documentary and puts the spotlight on a few of the kids. If you’ve ever had a child in a school play, Curtain Up! is going to feel very familiar…except these kids can actually sing.
"…underlying message is the importance of the arts in education across the board."